Flood fury hits Kashmir’s treasure trove

90% artifacts damaged in SPS Museum, say officials; Rare books, paintings affected at SPS Library, Cultural Academy

The recent floods have severely hit the SPS Museum at Lal Mandi here as 90 percent of its artifacts have been damaged by the deluge, officials said.

As the employees try to clear silt from rare paintings and manuscripts, the dejection is visible on their faces. “It is the loss beyond repair,” said Muhammed Shafi Zahid, director archives, archeology and museums. “Going by the records, never has the museum in its more than 100 years of existence suffered such damage; not even during the great floods of 1902, 1957 and 1959.”
Zahid said the preliminary assessment indicates that 90 percent of artifacts have been damaged. “We have around 18,000 artifacts and you can yourself calculate the number,” he said.
The museum’s fireproof and quakeproof strong room couldn’t withstand the onslaught of the thick flood waters. Most of the unaffected items were on the display inside the museum complex.
The list of damaged items include Basohli/Pahari paintings, rare manuscripts in Persian, Arabic and Sanskrit, old textile items, papier machie pieces and other fragile decorative items.
“The paintings and other manuscripts were piled inside the strong room and the flood water made them stick to each other,” said Zahid. “And now even their separation is becoming a tough job.”
Due to the poor connectivity of phones, experts from New Delhi are yet to come to rescue of their counterparts in Kashmir to retrieve what can be saved.
The department had planned to start shifting some of the artifacts to the newly-constructed building on September 10-11. A national-level seminar was also proposed on the occasion, which now stands cancelled.
The experts say if the Rs 66-crore new building would have been completed on its due date in 2009 or even couple of years later, the heritage of Kashmir might have suffered lesser damage. “Although the poorly-designed new building was also affected in floods, the damage was not as extensive and its top floors and even higher levels on ground floor were safe,” said a retired official of the department. “In the old building all 18000 artifacts were cramped in a small space and the government was never concerned about its safety.”
The floods have also damaged the historical building housing the museum and SPS Library and the entire structure has become unsafe.
The SPS library also witnessed damage to its books as the water level went up to three feet on the first floor after completely submerging ground floor. “The lower two shelves of books spanning the library were under water,” said Ishrat Jabin, Chief Librarian, SPS Library. “We are assessing the damage and as there is water, silt and dead rats everywhere, we still don’t know the fate of our rare books.” The historical library has around 45000 books including many rare manuscripts.
Much like SPS museum, the new building for SPS library has also been under construction for a long time. Had the library shifted to the new building at M A Road on its due date of 2008, the extensive damage might have been avoided here too.
The situation at the Jammu and Kashmir Academy of Art Culture and Languages is no different, as the repository of valuable manuscripts and paintings is also feared to have endured extensive damage. But the officials here are hopeful that their timely action of evacuating strong-room from ground floor to first might have saved some. “Right before the day of floods, we took all the manuscripts, paintings and books to the first floor,” said Haroon Rashid, Secretary of the Academy.
“But even there, the water level rose to almost three feet and the manuscripts and paintings on the lower end were affected.”
Rashid said that the department is yet to ascertain the damage as the water has not completely drained out. “We are hopeful that our 90 percent of manuscripts and paintings are safe,” said Rashid. “Our conservative estimate indicates that around 90 manuscripts and 40 paintings may have been affected but the picture will be clear in coming weeks.”
Of the six buildings with Academy, four are still under water, with one being declared totally unsafe.
The office of the academy has also suffered damage with 20 computers and 80 percent of official correspondence destroyed. The floods have also damaged around 30000 books published by the academy.

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